Sunday, 20 July 2014

Aerial Photography On the Cheap

I have been fortunate enough to have a few rides in aircraft other than big airliners. This gives some scope for taking photographs, which is difficult from big planes as the windows are several layers thick and distort the view.
If you haven’t seen much fine art aerial photography have a look at the work of the late Bradford Washburn on Google or in your local library/bookshop. He did some spectacular photography. Not just the usual aerial views but intricate pattern pictures, some quite abstract.

This blog post gives a few hints and tips based on my limited experiences.

When you're high on a mountain it's easy to imagine you're in a plane and mimic aerial shots just by having a big drop in front of you and nothing close to the lens. So for me I was more interested in the patterns in the landscape than taking mountains from planes, although I did both as the viewpoints from planes are not accessible in any other way.
Helicopter Photography
I have been ski mountaineering quite a bit and ended trips 3 times with a day of heli-skiing. This has the advantage that you can spread the cost of the helicopter flight with several other people! The friends I shared with all appreciated that I needed to be in the best seat for photos, usually up front next to the pilot. Our mountain guide, always Jon de Montjoye, and the other 2 or 3 were in the back.
Unfortunately the windows have to stay shut in helicopters in the Alps, I think they’re afraid you’ll fall out through them! This means that you have to take your photographs through the helicopter clear plastic shell which is a bit like a large plastic bubble. The see-through floor is a little disconcerting at times!

The plastic adds distortions and reflections. You can use a polarising filter to try and remove some of the reflections if you have high ISO film/high ISO digital. The polariser will lose you 2 to 3 stops when giving the maximum effect, in fact it takes 1.5 stops as soon as you screw it onto the lens so don't use it unless you need to.
The Valgrisanche and Strahlhorn shots here have all had severe cropping to remove reflections on the negative. You can get away with some over the mountains but in a clear sky it’s too obvious and has to be cropped. The sharpness is always reduced when taking photos through windows/cockpit so some of these images were unusable at the time I took them as the reduced sharpness would be unacceptable on big darkroom prints. Now with film scanners and Photoshop sharpening tools that’s changed somewhat and previously unusable images can now be printed large.
Valgrisanche from the Air
Strahlhorn and Macugnaga Valley from the Air – wide view 
Strahlhorn from the Air – same lens as the previous one but taken from closer position

Light Aircraft Photography
I was fortunate to be offered a ride in a light aircraft by a very generous friend of a friend who lives in Steamboat Springs in Colorado and who had his own plane. I checked beforehand that I could take shots through an open window which was confirmed. This made a big difference to the picture quality but it was bloody cold!
I took 2 lenses but on checking while sitting in the aircraft before takeoff I could see that the normal 80mm lens on my Mamiya 7 would be best to avoid the aircraft structure in the photos. The 80mm lens is equivalent to a 50mm lens on a full frame digital camera.
I had a bit over an hour in the air and ran off 3 rolls of 10 shots on Ilford FP4 Plus 120. I fixed the shutter speed at 1/125 after stopping the lens down just 1 stop to f5.6 for best sharpness. The vibrations were very severe so the last film was shot at 1/250 wide open (f4) and these were in general sharper than the first 2 rolls. I used my usual Sekonic 508 spot meter to check the exposures every now and then as the scene changed.
If I had planned to do aerial photography I would have taken Ilford 400 Delta to give me a couple of extra stops of speed, 1/500 would have given sharp negatives despite the vibrations and bouncing up and down in the cockpit. Ilford 400 Delta is much finer grain than HP5, for example, but a bit more grainy than FP4.
A traditional aerial photograph of Mount Zirkel. The extra height above the mountain and the feel of the shot lets you know it was taken from a plane.
Another view of the Mount Zirkel area. This time we are seeing a bit more of a pattern emerging, not just the mountain range.
This is Rabbit Ears Pass from the air. The rock features called Rabbit Ears are better seen with their shadows on the trees. At ground level it's the rocks themselves that make the picture.
The Mount Zirkel ridge with thousands of trees. I put the ridge on the edge of the shot to highlight the trees and long shadows while eliminating the wing strut and undercarriage from the shot!
Here are a couple of land pattern photos of the Steamboat Springs ski area from above

Now some more abstract land pattern photographs with snowy roads and land features


Hope that gives you some ideas. Now where can I scrounge another ride in someone’s plane from?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Buxton Summer Fete

We are exhibiting at Buxton Summer Fete in Pavilion Gardens this weekend. Open until 5pm both days. We have lots of new work and show offers. Jan has her colour photos too.

New Alpine Images

I have added a lot of new photographs to my web gallery. These are from various trips over the years and include ski mountaineering and skiing.

Locations include:

  • the Gran Paradiso area of northwest Italy near Aosta. 
  • The Bernese Oberland around Murren. 
  • Mountains around Saas Fee, Zermatt and Gressoney.
  • Photos from the summit of the Aiguille du Tour near Chamonix.
There are also some aerial shots taken in the Alps from helicopters and in Colorado near Steamboat Springs from a light aircraft. I will do a separate post for these with a few tips as to what worked best.
Jungfrau Ski Tracks

Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau (left to right)

Breithorn and Sefinenfurke (on Alpine Pass Route)

Mont Blanc (right) from Aiguille du Tour

La Tsantaleina and Crevasse, Gran Paradiso

Ski Mountaineering Above the Rifugio Benevolo

Room With a View, Rifugio Guglielmina, Gressoney

Strahlhorn from the Allalingletscher

Weissmies from Schwarzberg Weisstor








Friday, 11 July 2014

Photokina Prints for Ilford Photo Stand

Just printing one of my Ilford FP4 120 negatives on fantastic new Ilford Multigrade FB Cooltone glossy paper at 24 x 20 inches. We've chosen a Wolf Creek Colorado snow scene to show the paper off to best effect. 

It's for the Ilford Photo stand at Photokina in Cologne in September, the world's largest photo and imaging show.

Also making prints on new FB Warmtone and new FB Classic for the same show.



Sunday, 22 June 2014

Artist and Designer Fair in Buxton

It's the last day of the Artist and Designer Fair at Pavilion Gardens in Buxton. We have lots of photographs, including new ones.

Jan has her colour photos on the stand too.

Come and have a chat with us.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Lakes Round Day 8 - Coniston Old Man - The End

Our last day of the 80 mile 8 day circular walk around the Lake District over all of the English 3000 foot mountains and as many others as I could reasonably fit into our route. Today was Coniston to Boot in Eskdale.

Once again we were on the hills by 9am heading up a steep track to the Walna Scar Road and across to the main route up the Old Man of Coniston. We had low cloud and Scotch Mist so no views and cold damp conditions. I took a shot on my phone of the old mine workings for a bit of light relief.


It took 2 hours but there were no views at the top as we walked along the summit ridge then dropped down to the saddle between the Coniston ridge and Dow Crag. We were a long way down before we saw anything at all.

We came down to the valley and stopped for a bite to eat. I photographed the misty view with cotton grass in the foreground as we moved off.


On to Seathwaite Tarn and down to the Dunnerdale valley. From here it was a punishing climb steeply upwards to the rocky summit of Harter Fell. It was 2.30 pm and we stayed on top for about an hour taking photos as the clouds lifted and thinned and the sun came out.

I took some photos on Ilford FP4 to the coast and then to Scafell as conditions improved using a red filter on the lens to emphasise the sky. I ended up with a shot that I will make into a panoramic with Scafell on the left and Crinkle Crags on the right. I also took it on my phone and edited it with Snapseed. It's often difficult to make skies as dark or contrasty as they will be when I print them, and I don't overprint them! I discovered that once converted to Black and White in Snapseed the Drama filter gave an effect similar to that produced by a red filter with traditional film.


From Harter Fell it was a steady walk down to the Woolpack Inn in Eskdale, the end of our trip! We celebrated in the sunshine with a couple of pints, Eastgate Ale then Oyster Stout.

Overall, it was a great trip, good walking, good beers, good food. I like multi-day walks, they allow you to see lots of different views every day with no need to retrace steps to reach new ground. Al's a good friend that I've known over 40 years and is always good company and most importantly he laughs at my jokes.

The weather could have been better on the big mountains but I still have some good new shots from 6 of the 8 days. I took 13 rolls of 120 film with 10 7x6 cm shots on each film, 12 rolls of Ilford FP4 and 1 roll of Ilford SFX infrared film.

Later we watched the opening match of the World Cup on the big screen in the bar, so there was a good reason for the delay in doing this post!